Since I am not married, I will make a promise of celibacy as part of the rite of my ordination as deacon.
I have previously written on celibacy on another blog.
But since that blog post was written, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love.
What impressed me was a paragraph on virginity, #159, which reads, in part:
Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return… Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ… All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy” based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another. Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”. (Emphasis mine.)
I find this approach both refreshing and prophetic. Virginity, celibacy, has to bring forth a life of love; sexual abstinence is not superior to sexuality in marriage. They compliment each other.
Thus I am a little uneasy about the wording used in one part of the Spanish exhortation before the promise of celibacy:
Movido, pues, por el amor a Cristo y en una entrega total a él, vivirás en este estado, consagrado al Señor de una manera nueva y más excelsa.
Moved, then, by the love of Christ and in a total commitment to Him, you will live in this state, consecrated to the Lord in a new and elevated/sublime manner. (My translation.)
The English text reads slightly differently and I cite it in full:
By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of deacons. You shall exercise this ministry in the celibate state for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. By living in this state with total dedication, moved by a sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way. By this consecration you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more freely at the service of God and mankind, and you will be more untrammeled in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth. By your life and character, you will give witness to your brothers and sisters in faith that God must be loved above all else, and that it is he whom you serve in others.
Celibacy is for the sake of the Kingdom – putting my life and my love in God’s hands.
Yet I see the love expressed in those who are married as a sign of the Kingdom, because they are called so many times to give themselves to each other and to their children and grandchildren. I don’t know if I would have the love and commitment and patience that married people have. Maybe Alexander of Hales is right in more than one way.
As I approach the day I think of a man I met in New Jersey during the retreat for deacon candidates in the Newark Archdiocese. He had begun his formation as a married man but his wife died just about a year ago. When he was ordained in June he made the promise of celibacy. This might have been more difficult for him than for me, who have been celibate all my life. His witness gives me courage to make this public promise of celibacy.
But all this only makes sense if I let myself be loved and love.
As James Keating wrote in The Heart of the Diaconate, which I also cited in the blog post mentioned above:
Celibacy is a way of being human; not a way of avoiding our incarnate state. Anyone who chooses celibacy for reasons other than being captivated by the beauty of God and looking into that beauty as one’s chosen pleasure is setting oneself up for disappointment and sadness.
I think it is even more recognizing that I am loved.
Friday, as I left El Salvador, Sister Peggy gave me a great big hug and told me, “Know that you are loved.”
That knowledge of being loved by God and experiencing that love through the love of others is what must sustain me in my promise of celibacy:
And so I pray that I have the courage and the love to respond “I will,” when the bishop asks me:
¿Quieres, ante Dios y ante la Iglesia, en señal de su entrega a Cristo, el Señor, guardar perpetuamente el celibato por el reino de los cielos y para el servicio de Dios y de los hombres?
In the presence of God and the Church, are you willing (in the English translation: are you resolved?), as a sign of your handing yourself over (in English: interior dedication) to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and people?